Police: No crime spike in Sangre Grande squatting site

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Head of the Eastern Division Snr Supt Ryan Khan. –

Head of the Eastern Division Snr Supt Ryan Khan says statistics over the last five years does not show any crime surges in the Northeastern Settlement district, in Sangre Grande.

He was responding to claims by residents that the rapid expansion of the squatting village has fuelled an increase in gang wars and crime.

In just over three decades, the village, located north of the Sangre Grande Hospital, has grown from a handful of squatters in a forested area, to 3,500 people spread over a 320-acre development.

Villagers spoke with Newsday on the heels of the police killing of contractor Brandon De Gale, 33, at his Northeastern Settlement home on November 28, during a search for arms and ammunition claimed that the general desertion of the community by the authorities is the reason for the uptick in criminal activity.

Police claimed De Gale pulled out a gun from under a pillow and pointed it at them when they entered his bedroom. One gun, ammunition and marijuana were seized from the scene.

The Professional Standards Bureau is conducting an investigation into the incident.

Elderly residents have blamed the younger population who they say engage in gang wars over drug turfs.

Khan said while there are challenges, such as the presence of gang activities in the area according to police intelligence, he stressed as these issues surface police have recalibrated their strategies.

Khan said the police would adapt by re-allocating resources based on intelligence gathered to address and tackle these ongoing challenges effectively.

In response to the residents’ claims, Khan said the police’s crime fighting initiatives are supported by intelligence and statistics from the Crime and Problem Analysis Unit to more effectively deploy resources, to successfully manage crime in the area.

Khan said in an effort to foster trust and co-operation within the community, the police have implemented various initiatives.

These include regular walkabouts to engage and understand the community better, school lectures, and active participation in station council meetings.

He said as a result of these efforts, the Eastern Division has seen a detection rate of 60 per cent for serious crimes and murders have decreased by 24 per cent.

Khan said notwithstanding the perception that the village is a “challenging area,” ongoing strategic initiatives within the division have yielded positive changes.

“One of the biggest things we have to get over as police officers is reassuring the public that what we say is accurate,” he said.

“You see social media and it will paint a different picture and your perception is your reality. So, if you feel that a district is overrun by criminals, it might be two incidents spread (online) so much that you believe it’s one hundred (incidents). So that will be your reality.”

The year-to-date murder toll of two, is the second-lowest figure since 2018 in which only one murder was recorded.

While 15 murders were recorded between 2018 and 2023, only six were classified as gang-affiliated killings while two were believed to be drug-related.

Five of the remaining seven were classed as “revenge” killings, one was the result of an altercation and the motive behind the other remains unknown. None of the two homicides reported for 2023 are gang-related.

A total of 40 reports of woundings and shootings were recorded between 2018 and 2022, reflecting an average of six per year.

In 2023 to date, there have been nine reports of woundings and shootings, an increase on last year’s figure of seven.